Wednesday 17 January 2018

Donal's final mission

Last year's trauma is history for Vaughan as he eyes up Sam

Donal Vaughan in action against Enda Smith of Roscommon Photo: Sportsfile
Donal Vaughan in action against Enda Smith of Roscommon Photo: Sportsfile

It's fair to say that Mayo memories of last year's duel with the Dubs are shrouded in regret, embracing two fresh chapters for that epic tome, 'What If?'

For Donal Vaughan, the on-field memories were relatively constricted but it was more than just mental anguish: the pain was physical too. He was on the Croke Park pitch for barely ten minutes of the drawn semi-final and then less than half of the replay.

It all started to wrong after just six minutes on day one, when he delivered a seemingly perfect 'hit' on Jack McCaffrey ... at a cost to his own shoulder.

He departed soon after and, while Dublin fans spent the next six days consumed by Diarmuid Connolly's disciplinary saga, Mayo had their own "will he or won't he?" question over Vaughan's replay availability.

As it happened, he started. But there were hints of him labouring against Ciarán Kilkenny and management opted to introduce Patrick Durcan in his place, shortly before half-time.

"I've no regrets really about playing the second game, certainly not," says the Ballinrobe clubman, before detailing the major effort required to get back within a week.

"I tore my AC joint," he explains. "It can be a six-week injury in normal circumstances. It's four to six weeks to get back playing pain-free. That game was on a Sunday so it was six days - and five days to when I had to train to show that you were ready to go."

Vaughan is full of praise for the medical team in Santry's Sports Surgery Clinic, led by Colm Fuller, who got him right in double-quick time.

"On the Friday I would have done a fitness test with them catching ball over your shoulders, falling on your shoulder just to make sure it was right. On the Monday I went in and my shoulder was killing me and they were like 'It's not too bad, it's sound, it's grand' ... they've seen an awful lot worse shoulder injuries."

He revisited Dublin midweek and stayed up until the match. "I was in Santry two or three times a day, literally doing nothing else but rehab and getting treatment. There was actually two physios working on me at some stages ... but going back to your question, do I regret it? I felt I was doing quite well in the game. I may have conceded two points or something like that, but I actually felt I was well in the game.

"I was taken off before half-time but I felt I made a positive contribution. I think we were ten-all at half-time so I certainly had no regrets about that."

Physically, there were no long-term repercussions. Vaughan missed Ballinrobe's next game but returned to club championship action a couple of weeks later.

Some observers have surmised, however, that what followed off the pitch (the player heave against joint managers Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly) did have an initially negative impact on the group's performance graph.

A brush with relegation was followed by an underwhelming win in London. Then disaster struck in June, their Connacht six-in-a-row ambitions gone up in flames as Galway engulfed their listless hosts in the home straight.

Vaughan, coming back from injury, was sprung from the bench but couldn't halt the maroon tide. "We would have liked to have taken the direct route," he concedes.

"I suppose the one thing that would be a positive is that normally, when we learn our lesson, it's August or September and you've to wait six or seven months to try to right the wrongs or even just to start again. Whereas this time it was three weeks.

"We were facing an uphill battle, we didn't know who we were going to get and it made us look at ourselves - management, players - what were we doing, were we working hard enough?" he explains.

"Our attitude and our workrate in that game just wasn't near the standard we've set for ourselves. In the second half we got lessons. In every game we're playing so far, we're learning all the time."

He echoes a view previously aired by Alan Dillon - that Mayo emerged from three weeks of training post-Galway a "more united group", ready to embrace the qualifiers.

"We had an opportunity to right it straight away. The first game is always the biggest challenge after a defeat," Vaughan points out. But once they came from six down against Fermanagh, "all of a sudden you're on a winning streak, building momentum."

They'll need lots more momentum to topple Dublin on Sunday. But Vaughan remains hopeful. "I feel we are in a good place," he assures. "My body feels good ... genuinely there's no one carrying knocks.

"We're going in and out of games, we are producing very good spells in fairness. What I always say is when we play like we can, we can beat any team and we've shown that ... for us, it is a matter of extending that period of dominance."

Vaughan Shoes have shops in Ballinrobe, Claremorris and Castlebar, plus an online business. Donal's involvement in the retail world gives him a good handle on gauging the local mood. Only one topic has dominated this past month.

"I think people are still quite positive. They're very excited. Any time a team gets to the final, in fairness, you would argue that you have a 50/50 chance. Maybe pundits and everybody else is writing us off. We've a great chance and there are positive vibes out there," he concludes.

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